By: John M Jerva
It’s time to Action Rewind and during the 90’s, Daniel Bernhardt made a name for himself starring in a host of bad ass direct to video actioners starting with the sequel to Van Damme’s Bloodsport. Even though nothing could compare to the original, Bernhardt shined in the follow up and it was one sequel that stood on its own.
Bernhardt would follow that up with two more Bloodsport themed films and also was featured in other bad ass titles like Perfect Target, G2: Mortal Conquest, Special Forces and even was featured in the short lived but incredibly awesome Mortal Kombat TV series. Bernhardt always infused his martial arts skills in all his movies and displayed some rather top tier moves.
It was in 1997, however, when Bernhardt made one of his best, if not the best, action-thrillers in his arsenal in True Vengeance which was his stab at a John Woo style shoot ’em up punctuated with blistering fight sequences. Bernhardt starred as former Navy SEAL Allen Griffen who has gone off the grid ever since a mission with a fellow collegue played by Miles O’Keeffe known only as The Specialist went completely awry. It didn’t help that Griffin wanted to call off a strike on a bad guy when it was apparent that innocents were present but The Specialist wanted to finish the mission at all costs. I smell a showdown between these two in the future.
After faking his own death, Griffin has been laying low with his daughter but unfortunately, his past comes back to haunt him when vicious Yakuza crime boss Hidako Minushoto (George Cheung) comes calling looking to bring Griffin back into the fold and when he declines, his daughter is kidnapped setting off a chain reaction of fierce firefights and brutal fight action as Griffin turns on his one man army mode to bring his little girl back at all costs. At one point just before breaking a foe’s neck, Bernhardt screams in true action hero fashion, “you think you can kill me?! No one can kill me!” This is a true fight film classic line and it fits the atmosphere perfectly.
True Vengeance was helmed by David Worth, who is also known for directing such other classic action flicks as JCVD’s original Kickboxer, Lady Dragon 1 and 2 with Cynthia Rothrock and the criminally underrated Chain Of Command starring Michael Dudikoff. Worth mentioned that True Vengeance was his homage to the classsic Hong Kong actioners that came before and you can certainly see it in the film’s many action sequences as there are large amounts of slo-mo action and double fisted guns blazing firefights which even features Bernhardt flying through the air as he spits out countless rounds of ammunition.
If there is any negatives to point out, I’d have to go with suspect acting from some of the supporting cast members. The local cop and Naval Intelligence officer who are tasked with bringing Griffin in are pointless as well and just seem to get in the way and take away from the gleeful carnage on display. This is nitpicking on my part of course as these plot points don’t interfere with fans’ enjoyment.
Bernhardt really had the presence as an action star and he commanded the screen each and every time and in this feature, he was at his army of one best as he ran a gauntlet of trained assassins including his old nemesis The Specialist who is brought in to take him out.
The movie is never slow and it features a stand out action set piece every couple of minutes and the mixture of unarmed combat and ferocious gunplay is perfect in every way. Bernhardt takes on a host of 90’s bad ass advesaries like Leo Lee and Roger Yuan and the fight choreography by none other than John Wick helmer Chad Stahelski himself is brutal poetry in motion and most satisfying for action cinema enthusiasts.
It’s hard to pick out a favorite scene as there are many like Bernardt’s fight with Lee and the pulsating shootout in an underground Yakuza club being the standouts but the finale is epic as well with Griffin mowing down hordes of Yakuza mercenaries on his collision course with The Specialist which includes one top tier sword fight.
True Vengeance is the perfect example of what made this decade great and Bernhardt was simply one of the best and it’s great to see him getting a round two presently with roles in Stahelski’s original John Wick and David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde. We can’t forget about his savage fisticuffs with Jason Statham in Parker which was definitely the best scene of that film. He deserves outright to be a larger action star and I hope that one day, he will headline an action spectacle once again. He will always be one of my favorites and I will forever revisit his films as they are Action-Flix Approved worthy.
Let’s take a stroll down action cinema memory lane and check out what I’ve been talking about as Bernhardt dazzles the audience with his unflinching action hero bravado! Brutal and poetic mastery at its finest.